Hanrahan relishing prospect of another Leinster showdown
Outhalf’s three late penalties secure lethargic Munster a hard-earned win over Treviso
JJ Hanrahan kicks the late winning penalty to secure Munster’s narrow victory over Benetton at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inphodan
Munster needed a late JJ Hanrahan penalty from distance to edge past Benetton Rugby, but their last-gasp hero thinks they can up their game and deny Leinster back-to-back Pro14 titles in the semi-final.
The home side made very hard work of their quarter-final against the Italians in front of 10,043 spectators at Thomond Park, but three Hanrahan penalties in the final 18 minutes saw them across the line.
The Kerry native replaced Tyler Bleyendaal eight minutes into the second half and enhanced his reputation with a steadying influence, and he feels Munster can return to the final after a one-season gap with a win at the RDS in a fortnight.
“Yeah, I definitely do. I think if you actually really analyse it, we’ve added an awful lot to our game, that’s for sure, and particularly in our attacking game. I think in our fitness as well,” said Hanrahan, who has taken heart from Munster’s festive season win over Leinster.
“I think there was only one point in it last year and it came down to very small moments so I think we’re definitely better equipped this year to give it a better crack.
“That win at Christmas was massive for the dressing room. Particularly I think it was great to get it at home as well. We know at home they’re going to be a different animal up there, it’s a different aspect going up to Dublin to play them.
“They’re definitely one of the top two sides in Europe and they’ve shown that because of the way they’ve played and obviously they’re in the [Champions Cup] final, so it will be interesting to see who will come out on top of that next week.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ll go back to the drawing board and we’ll make our plans and we’ll give it a crack when we get up there.”
His coach Johann van Graan predicts “a fierce” battle against their arch rivals in the Pro14 semi-final, a game they have two weeks to prepare for.
Leinster face a mammoth test against Saracens next weekend in the Champions Cup final, and van Graan is hoping his side can challenge them a week later and have a shot at their first league title since 2011
“I think it will be fierce. It’s two teams that have played many, many battles before, so I think it will be a massive battle but it’s knock-out rugby, the winner of the next game goes to the final,” said van Graan.
“We said as a group that after the disappointment of the Champions Cup, we want to get past the semi-final stage this season. We got past the quarter-final stage, we’re into a semi-final now and if we get past the next one we are in the final, so that’s where all our energy will be going into.
“I’m not even going to try and speculate [about the Saracens game]. It was the exact same thing last season. We played Edinburgh here, Leinster went to Bilbao in Spain, they won the Champions Cup. We’ll just focus on ourselves, do what we need to do and then in two weeks’ time turn up for the semi-final in Dublin.”
Munster will look for massive improvements in their semi-final after a lethargic showing at Thomond Park almost cost them their season. Try scoring chances went unclaimed in the first half and Ratuva Tavuyara’s try just before the interval and Tomasso Allan’s brilliant conversion gave Benetton a 10-3 lead.
After the break it was Benetton turn to waste some great opportunities, and after Bleyendaal added a penalty, it was cancelled out by Allan at the other end.
But van Graan emptied his bench and replacement Hanrahan was the hero with three late penalties.
MUNSTER: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, D Sweetnam; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony, C Cloete, CJ Stander.
Replacements: B Holland for Beirne (48 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Hanrahan (48), J Ryan for Archer (51), A Botha for Cloete (63), A Mathewson for Murray (67), D Goggin for R Scannell (70), K O’Byrne for N Scannell (73), L O’Connor for Kilcoyne (73).
BENETTON RUGBY: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, M Zanon, L Morisi, M Ioane; T Allan, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, L Bigi, M Riccioni; M Lazzaroni, F Ruzza; S Negri, A Steyn, T Halafihi.
Replacements: T Tebaldi for Duvenage (42-48 mins, blood & 77), H Faiva for Bigi (48), D Appiah for Quaglio (48), I Herbst for Lazzaroni (51), D Budd for Negri (51), T Pasquali for Ricconi (63), A Sgarbi for Zanon (67), A Rizzi for Allan (77).
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).